Hive Poetry Sessions

Hive Poetry is a monthly poetry workshop for young people 18 to 25 yrs (or thereabouts) from across Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster & Barnsley (who don’t attend another Hive group in South Yorkshire)

Write poems, read poems, get ideas, build skills, learn from feedback, hear about opportunities and be inspired by others who buzz off the same thing in a relaxed atmosphere. Be it hobby interest, serious career or portfolio focus, this workshop is there to keep you in your creative groove! The group is run by widely published poet, editor and mentor, Vicky Morris, and is open to all levels and interests.

Where: Sheffield town centre venue 12-2.15pm
£1.50 suggested minimum donation, £3 ideal!
Come along: 18th Dec / currently on a Sunday

Interested? Email
Why so cheap? Sessions are subsidised to encourage young people to travel from across South Yorkshire to attend. If travel costs are an issue, let us know.

“I really look forward to these sessions and the supportive atmosphere and people.” Warda Yassin – New Poets Prize Winner 2018

surfing the twilight Hive anthology is here!

We are excited to say, surfing the twilight is now available to buy (best Christmas present ever!) This wonderfully moving and diverse anthology showcases 78 works of poetry, short story and flash — the work of a whopping 69 young and emerging writers in the region including award winners Warda Yassin, Lauren Hollingsworth Smith, Ciah White and Georgie Woodhead. It also celebrates the winners of our 2019 Hive Young Writers’ Competition, open to young writers from across the region. A wonderful gift for fiction and poetry lovers and a snip at £6.00 (post +pp & £6.50 shop)

“A wonderful anthology – imaginative, sensitive, surprising, lively and positively bursting with fresh new voices. I couldn’t put this book down, to read it is to be captivated by astounding talent in the making. These are writers I know we’ll be seeing books by in the future. It’s a joy to read them.” – Angela Readman


“From grandmothers to snow, a girl who lives in a jam jar to a skate park at twilight, the poems are varied in their subject matter and united in their excellence. Moving, imaginative, exciting, this writing makes clear that the future of poetry is in very safe hands.” – Jonathan Edwards

Buy surfing the twilight
You can buy surfing the twilight in Sheffield at the wonderful All Good Stuff at Butcher Works on Arundel Street (near the uni and train station, here on streetview) for £6.50. Or if you can’t get to the shop, we can deliver by post (payment by internet bank transfer or Paypal)

If by post, drop us a line to with: 1) the number of copies you’d like 2) how you’d like to pay (Paypal or bank transfer). We’ll get back promptly confirming the amount with details of how to pay.

At All Good Stuff:  £6.50 | Post: 1 copy £6.00 + £1.50 pp (total £7.50)
(If you’d like to purchase more copies, do contact us for a price. We’re happy to do a discount)
Why is it so cheap you might ask? Because we want it to be accessible to everyone, young and old. Proceeds go back into the project. 

surfing the twilight is a limited edition, not-for-profit publication in part funded
by Arts Council of England |

Congratulations Lauren Hollingsworth Smith winner of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award!

Huge congratulations are in order to 17-year-old Lauren Hollingsworth Smith of Rotherham Young Writers – one of the 15 winning poets of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2019!

“If poetry is the language of being human, here we have poets speaking in every cadence possible.” – Jackie Kay and Raymond Antrobus, Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award judges 2019

On 2 October 2019, the top 15 poets and 85 commended poets who are winners of this year’s Foyle Young Poets Award were announced at a glitzy ceremony at Southbank Centre, London. The top 15 poets read their winning poems to an excited room of young writers, parents, VIP guests and established poets. Following their reading, they heard from and had a chance to ask questions of this year’s judges Raymond Antrobus and Jackie Kay, as well as Foyle Patrons Ellie Kendrick (herself a former winner) and best-selling poet Nikita Gill.

The winning entries were selected from over 6,000 poets and over 11,000 poems by this year’s poet judges Raymond Antrobus and Jackie Kay. Writers aged 11-17 entered the competition from 76 different countries, from as far afield as Vietnam, Romania, Mexico and Japan, as well as the four corners of the UK.

You can read all the winning poems here. And that’s a fab photo of Lauren’s winning poem ‘I want to stand naked in the school hall’ below.

Massive thanks to The Poetry Society for all you do to support and encourage poets of all ages! 

Lauren Hollingsworth Smith
Lauren Hollingsworth Smith is a young writer from Rotherham who attends Hive’s Rotherham Young Writers. She was highly commended in the Young Northern Writers Award 2019, and is one of 15 Foyle Young Poet Award winners 2019. Lauren volunteers for Grimm & Co in Rotherham and is passionate about pursuing writing in the future. She has been published in Hive anthology, halfway smile. recently she was commissioned to write a poem about a UK bird for Hive’s Birdlife podcast project. She’s performed at various young writers’ events, and festivals including the Ted Hughes Poetry Festival 2019.



Young Writers’ Open Mic & Anthology Launch 30th Oct

Young Writers’ Open Mic & Hive Anthology Launch
Wed 30th Oct | 7.30pm – 10pm (doors open 7.10pm)
Where: SHU Performance Lab  Arundel Gate, Sheffield S1 2LQ (4 minutes for Sheffield train station)
Facebook event here | Street view here
£1 minimum suggested donation / or whatever you can afford (We are asking for a little support to help us keep doing what we do)

We’re calling you … young people (14-30s) from across South Yorkshire. If you write poems or tell stories or have anything else to say out loud to a supportive audience, this is an evening to celebrate your words, ideas and talents in a warm atmosphere.
Come and enjoy positive and supportive vibes and the launch of our fab new anthology chock-a-block with amazing writing from young and emerging writers including the winners of our 2019 competition.

Events are open to all, both new & experienced performers. Pre-sign up for the open mic is now closed until on the night. There will be a sign-up sheet at the table as you come in that you can put your name down on then, or if you decide later (as people often do once they realise how supportive it is) in the break. Slots limited. 

Hosted by Sile Sibanda
A partnership with Sheffield Hallam University Verse Matters

Georgie Woodhead BBC Short Story Award Congratulations!

Congratulations Georgie Woodhead!
Winner of the BBC Young Writers’ Award 2019

A massive congratulations to Sheffield Young Writer’s Georgie Woodhead, the winner and one of five shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Short Story Award with First Story and Cambridge University

Georgie’s story Jelly-headed, described as ‘a comic, quirky and ultimately tragic story of two friends, a night out and a lightning strike that brings devastation. A story about guilt and the absurdity of life, this funny, subversive story is ultimately about searching for meaning or connection’, has rather excitingly been recorded by a professional actor for BBC Radio 1. You can listen to it here.

The shortlist was announced on BBC Radio 1 on 22nd September, and all five teenagers attended the exclusive BBC Short Story Awards ceremony with their families on Tuesday 1 October 2019, when the winner was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. There, they met high-profile authors, publishers, agents and broadcasters at the award ceremony.

You can hear an interview with Georgie here (16mins in)with Paulette Edwards on BBC Radio Sheffield.

Congratulations also to the following stories and shortlisted:
‘Insula’ by Eleanor Clark, 16, from mid-Devon
‘Another Pair of Eyes’ by Tallulah Howarth, 17, from Macclesfield
‘The Blue of Spring Violets’ by Isobel Paxton, 17, from Edinburgh
‘Allotment’ by Rowan Taylor, 16, from Reading
The five shortlisted stories are available to read and listen to on the Radio 1 website. They are also available on BBC Sounds as part of the Short Works short story podcast.

For the first time, a love of poetry and a desire to experiment with the short story form has been mentioned by each of the shortlisted writers, with 2018 Foyle Young Poet Georgie Woodhead featuring on the shortlist. The five stories – many deeply personal – range from the comic, to the lyrical, to the tragic, and are written by an all-female shortlist of young writers aged 16 and 17 years from across the UK.

Showing a fearless confidence in form and tone, the stories explore divorce, coming of age, mental illness, loneliness and the meaning of life, and range from the meditative to flash-fiction. Whether it be the brutally evocative story of kinship found in hospital as a teenager battles anorexia; the implosion of a young girl’s family life told through the change of seasons on her father’s allotment; the tragi-comic story of a freak accident on a nightclub roof; a search for the meaning of home via a journey from island to city; or the funny and tender story of an introvert archivist and his connection to an exhibit – each finalist has shown a fresh, sophisticated and unique approach to their subject.

Katie Thistleton is joined on this year’s judging panel by former teacher and Betty Trask Award winner Anthony Cartwright; Waterstones Prize and YA Bookseller Prize-winning writer Patrice Lawrence; winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year children’s author Kiran Millwood Hargrave; and writer, rapper and world-record breaking human beatboxer Testament.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, judge and author, says:

“This was one of the most stimulating and collaborative experiences of judging I’ve ever had and we’ve emerged with a shortlist to be proud of. The writers demonstrate all the skills I look for in any piece of writing, from immediacy of voice to sensitive pacing, and most of all an emotional connection made with the reader. I think the way a story is told is just as important as the story itself, and these writers have each paid attention to language as well as plot.”

Dr Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English, Cambridge University, says:

“In a modern world in which the pace of life so often outstrips our ability to process it, these wonderful stories all show how words can create a bubble of calm in which to feel, remember, laugh and cry. Our shortlistees represent a new generation of writers whose concerns and use of form both link them to the past and yet depart from it. The University of Cambridge is delighted to celebrate these young women shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, who will shape the future of writing just as Cambridge alumni such as Zadie Smith and Helen Oyeyemi have done before them.”

Georgie Woodhead is 16 years old and lives in Sheffield. She is an avid writer and greatly enjoys the creative process. Georgie is also a skilled poet and won the esteemed Foyle Young Poet Award, was highly commended in the Cuckoo Northern Writers Award, and was the runner-up in the young people’s category of the Ledbury Poetry Competition, all in 2018. Georgie likes to read novels and short stories, mainly contemporary fiction, from writers such as Etgar Keret, Kafka, J.D Salinger, and Arundhati Roy. In the future, Georgie hopes to continue to develop her writing work, and to travel.

ABOUT THE AWARD: This is the fifth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites all 14 – 18-year-olds living in the United Kingdom to submit short stories of up to 1,000 words. The Award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations for the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers. Previous winners are Brennig Davies (2015), Lizzie Freestone (2016), Elizabeth Ryder (2017) and Davina Bacon (2018).
Partners: BBC, First Story & Cambridge University

Mixing Roots showcase – with Warda Yassin and Guests

A poetry reading Supported by Hatch & Off the Shelf Festival of Words
Tues 15 October 2019 6.30 to 8pm
At Israac Somali Community & Cultural Centre
Israac Centre: 54 Cemetery Rd, Sheffield (near the bottom of The Moor)
FREE | Refreshments provided | All welcome!

A poetry performance celebrating young women, their creativity and cultures. Join local Somali Poet and winner of the New Poets Prize 2018, Warda Yassin, guest poets, and young women from the Mixing Roots writing project. A free publication featuring work produced during the project will be available at the event.

Supported by Off the Shelf Festival of Words Hive South Yorkshire & Israac Centre

Mixing Roots was a project bringing together girls & young women from different backgrounds & cultures in a supportive space to talk, share & write about everything from the roots we come from & what has been passed down to us, to who we are today.

The project is led by award-winning writer & teacher Warda Yassin who’ll offer fun ways to share & write. It will end with a celebration & publication launch at Off the Shelf Festival of Words in the autumn.

Mixing Roots is aimed at those new to a writing group, no experience is needed & all levels are welcome. We’re particularly keen to encourage women of colour from any or no faith, and those who might not feel very confident but want to try something new & creative.

Supported by Hive’s Hatch Programme & Off the Shelf Festival of Words

Poetry in Unexpected Places with Andrew McMillan

Poetry in Unexpected Places – with poet Andrew McMillan
Hive Young Writers’ Day in partnership with Off the Shelf Festival of Words
Sat 26th Oct – 10.30am – 4 pm | Venue: Sheffield Hallam University, Owen Building S1 2ND
Open to young people aged 14 – 25 years from across South Yorkshire

Join Barnsley bred award-winning poet, Andrew McMillan, to write poems in new and exciting ways where content and form are pushed. Some of the best writing comes when we leave our usual zone and take ourselves to places we might not have been before. A fun, stimulating day of writing, reading and thinking for young writers of any experience.

Supported by Off the Shelf & Sheffield Hallam University Faculty of Development & Society

Tickets: only £6 (discount available where needed) including refreshments (but not lunch)
Discounts: Please note, Hive writers’ day are subsidised to make them affordable, but Hive is particularly keen to encourage young people who maybe wouldn’t normally access this type of opportunity, and there are always discounts available for a number of tickets to support individuals who may be unable to pay in full, or to support travel costs within the region. Get in touch ASAP before places fill up if that sounds like you.

Booking: To book a place on this Writers’ Day, email
Where:Sheffield Hallam University Owen Building S1 2ND

Andrew McMillan’s debut collection physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015.

Most recently physical has been translated into Norwegian (Aschehoug, 2017), a bi-lingual French edition, Le Corps Des Hommes (Grasset, 2018) and Galician (A Chan da Polvora, 2019). His second collection, playtime, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2018; it was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018, a Poetry Book of the Month in both The Observer and The Telegraph and a Poetry Book of the Year in The Sunday Times. It is longlisted for the Polari Prize.  He is senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School at MMU and lives in Manchester.

Hive Young Writers’ Days
Hive Young Writers’ Days are a chance for young writers, whatever your interest and ability, to develop your writing with support from professional writers, while meeting other young writers, and getting involved in the Hive young writers’ network.

Hive Young Writers’ Days are open to young people 14 to 25 (this changes sometimes). If you don’t quite fit, but you’d like to come, get in touch with us:
For more about our writers’ days click here.

The Youth Word Up 2019 with Vanessa Kisuule

Working in partnership with Off the Shelf Festival of Words
Performance: Young people and poet Vanessa Kisuule
Events: 24th Oct 2019 | 7.30 – 9.30pm -The Hubs, Sheffield
Free event. Register via Eventbrite here

It’s that time of year again for the Youth Word Up – working with young people’s services in Sheffield & South Yorkshire. Local young people will perform pieces written during workshops with Vicky Morris from Hive, sharing their experiences and hopes. Many have never done anything like this before and have written brave and beautiful work about everything that can happen in young lives. Sharing the stage with the young performers are young writers from Hive and headline poet and slam champion, Vanessa Kisuule. Her poetry collections are Joyriding the Storm and A Recipe for Sorcery and she is currently Bristol City Poet.

Suitable for ages 13+, parental guidance applies
Free anthology from the project available at the event

About the Youth Word Up

As part of his guest curation of Off the Shelf in 2012, poet, novelist and activist, Benjamin Zephaniah, created The Youth Word Up – a project designed to give young people a chance to have their voices heard alongside an established poet.

Now in its 8th year, the Youth Word Up is an ongoing success with young people writing poetry and performing it alongside top poets at yearly events during the Festival. In 2013, a Youth Word Up, audio-visual installation of young people’s spoken poetry was showcased in Sheffield’s Winter Gardens. And since 2012 a publication of work by young people was produced from the project.

The Youth Word Up is an Off the Shelf Festival of Words Project funded by Arts Council – Grants for the Arts
Supported by Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Community Youth Teams, Sheffield Youth Justice Service, Chilypep, Healthwatch, Doncaster Foyer, Care team, Hive South Yorkshire, Vicky Morris and Arts Council England.

My Lumb Bank Arvon Week


I arrived by taxi down the single file road that lead to the Arvon, Lumb Bank writers residence. It was beautiful and remote and I felt so lucky; I never thought that I would be able to go on an Arvon course, but thanks to the amazing people at Hive I was there, and I was determined to make the most of it. The staff who greeted me were friendly and welcoming as they showed me to my room. It was compact but comfortable; crisp white bed linens, two plump cushions and a comfy blue blanket on a single bed, a space heater and of course, a desk. The view from the door of my room was breathtaking; the Lumb Bank gardens against the backdrop of a wall of trees. It felt as if that view had gone unchanged for centuries, as if Ted Hughes had once looked out of that door and seen the very same plush stillness.

Eager to get started, I unpacked quickly and I made my way to the library. The two people who had arrived before me, who I would come to know were Elizabeth and Hadi, were sat quietly discussing life and books. Elizabeth was a journalist from London, Hadi a filmmaker from Singapore. I started to wonder if I was in over my head, thinking a stay-at-home mum from Barnsley surely has no place sharing work with ones so creatively employed.

Elizabeth was a journalist from London, Hadi a filmmaker from Singapore. I started to wonder if I was in over my head, thinking a stay-at-home mum from Barnsley surely has no place sharing work with ones so creatively employed.

Slowly the rest of us filed in, and before long we all found ourselves elbow to elbow in the living room, all trying in vain to remember the sixteen names of our family for the next week. The staff gave us housekeeping info- what we should do in case of a fire, where to leave books we had lent from the library, how to sign up for cooking duty and tutorials, and exciting information on the week to come. It was amazing to hear how far some people had traveled; Hadi was still the winner in terms of miles and hours flown, but he had some strong contenders- Jenna from Los Angeles, Shelia from New York and Victoria from Uzbekistan chief among them.

We ate our first meal together; quiche and sides lovingly prepared by the center staff. I found myself seated next to one of the tutors, Diane, the New York Times Bestselling author of Thirteenth Tale. I was quite starstruck, and I joked to her that it felt like I was seated next to JK Rowling.

We met the tutors; Russ Litten and Diane Setterfield, properly later that evening as we entered the Barn for the first time. A creative space of sofas and soft lighting that would be the setting for our evening talks and readings, and where we would share our own work later in the week.

Diane asked us about the novels that most inspired our writing. My ‘to read’ list tripled that night, as the notebook on my lap filled with the books that had so peaked my peers enthusiasm. Russ asked us what our favourite word was, as a way to remember us all, and mine was ‘hyperbole’.

That night I was inspired, and I wrote a few hundred words before bed.


Tuesday began with a walk; Lindsay, a solicitor from London, and I stomping through the moss and rocks of the magical surrounding woodlands. We were lost, having thought the sign that read ‘public footpath’ but seemed to point straight up in the air must have surely been an error. But we enjoyed it, and made our way back before the start of the first workshop.

Russ and Diane are very talented and accomplished teachers; clear and informative, both founts of knowledge and experience. I felt privileged to be there, and very excited. We learned about the six elements of story, and about what fuels a narrative. We found out what kind of reader we are; what books we avoid, what we were prepared to forgive in novels, and how this information could make us better writers. We chose words at random from the dictionary and used them to create a headline, and used that headline to create a story.

This was our first glimpse into each other’s talents, and I wondered how Rebecca, a teacher from London, had managed to come up with a narrative so vivid and complete in such a small amount of time. Diane told us that we should think of our first drafts as clay, and all subsequent drafts as the shaping and the kilning and the gloss.

Diane told us that we should think of our first drafts as clay, and all subsequent drafts as the shaping and the kilning and the gloss.

With that advice in mind; that afternoon I sat with Lindsay in the barn, on opposite sofas with our laptops in our laps. Inspired by the setting of our morning walk, I rattled out three thousand words of clay I hoped could become a fairy story. The rain fell outside the windows as we typed, and I commented that it was a sound people download apps for.

That evening, we filed into The Barn for the literary VIP experience that was hearing the tutors read from their own works. Russ, a writer and musician from Hull, read first from his novel Kingdom- a book about a ghost in a prison. Diane read next, from her latest novel Once Upon a River- a book about a girl who defies death. We were captivated, spellbound.

Afterwards, they generously shared their knowledge with us in a Q and A.


The Wednesday lectures were about character; their function in a novel, and what it was about characters that compelled readers. Diane shared something she herself had done for her main character in Once Upon a River; writing a hundred questions about said character, and explained how this exercise would lead us to information we would never have had about them otherwise. Victoria (who we had learned on the first day was Diane’s biggest fan) and I, spoke excitedly about how special it was to get a glimpse at Diane’s own notes.

After another delicious lunch, I had my first tutorial. Russ Litten sharing his comments and critique on the writing samples I had given the tutors on Monday. He was so encouraging and repaired my wavering confidence. His notes and edits were all spot on, and he had written ‘ace!’ next to one of my sentences.

Russ Litten sharing his comments and critique on the writing samples I had given the tutors on Monday. He was so encouraging and repaired my wavering confidence. His notes and edits were all spot on, and he had written ‘ace!’ next to one of my sentences.

That afternoon I put his edits in place, and wrote a scene in my novel I thought might be good enough to share at the Friday readings.

Libby Page, that night’s guest speaker, arrived before tea as a few of us sat around the living room chatting. She was lovely; generous and modest. After tea we listened to her read from her novel The Lido, and she spoke about her journey to being an author. She gave us valuable advice about publishing, and about not giving up too easily.


The week was going fast. It felt like only hours had passed since I had stepped out of my taxi. The people whose names I had struggled to remember already felt like old friends.

Russ spoke to us about dialogue, that each line a character speaks should either move the story along or tell us something about that character. We transcribed a recording of a bigoted circus ringmaster from my hometown, and worked in groups to record each other and learn about how people speak. We wrote a piece using only dialogue, and I shared mine. I didn’t think it was that great, but people laughed and I was reassured. We spoke about adverbs, and unpacking the emotions in a sentence so that a reader experiences them, rather than watched the character experience them.

I was on cooking crew that day. Me and Hadi teamed with Su and Emily, a delightful mother-daughter duo from London. I made a cinnamon and apple crumble for dessert, as Su elevated the carrots with parsley. Emily mashed a fields worth of potatoes, while Hadi interspersed his efforts with taking photographs and videos to send back home. The food went down well, and I joked with Diane that one day my claim to fame story would be that I had once fed her sausage and mash.

Emily mashed a fields worth of potatoes, while Hadi interspersed his efforts with taking photographs and videos to send back home. The food went down well, and I joked with Diane that one day my claim to fame story would be that I had once fed her sausage and mash.

That evening I spent at the kitchen table. Russ Litten and a retinue of my fellow writers sharing wine and stories. It was an amazing evening, I have never felt funnier; Russ and the others laughing encouragingly at my stories of call centre work and family life. The feelings of insecurity I had had in those first days long forgotten.


I could not believe it was the final full day. I had fallen into a routine as one of the early risers; sipping coffee in the morning with Mark, a Scientist from Scotland and Sabiha, a teacher from Leicester.

Friday we spoke about fuel. About that feeling of inspiration and clarity a person gets when they hear their muse. Russ had us try and put a word to that feeling, and find three times when we had felt it. We then fictionalised those examples to make a story. My word was ‘nostalgia’, and I shared a piece about my family discussing a box designed for repelling mice.

Diane had us find the piece we would be sharing that evening, and we broke into groups and timed each other, giving feedback and encouragement. I formed a group with Kat, a teacher from London, Mark, and Elizabeth; who throughout the week had become fast friends with the cat in residence- Ted. We decided what we would say as an introduction to our work, and timed each other to make sure we wouldn’t go over the five minute time limit. I was nervous, having stared at my piece so much that I wasn’t sure if it was any good anymore. I asked Russ to read it later that day, as we sat in the library with Jared, a recruiter from Sheffield, listening to a song Russ’ band had written for the Jeremy Corbyn campaign. I’m glad I did, as it turned out I had a pair of disembodied legs flying around my first paragraph.

As we filed into the barn for the last time, we were nervous. Shaking hands clutching the papers that held our final drafts of the pieces we were going to read. I was fifth, and though I fumbled a few lines, the reception was good, and everyone was supportive. It was an amazing night of amazing work; people we knew all week would be amazing, and dark horses who had been quiet in the classes who now had everyone hanging on their every word. Jenna, who had not shared much in class, had everyone in stitches with the delivery of her piece: a modern take on the roles of childishness.

It was an amazing night of amazing work; people we knew all week would be amazing, and dark horses who had been quiet in the classes who now had everyone hanging on their every word.


I packed quickly, wanting as much time as possible to say goodbye. Each compliment had me closer to weeping, and Diane pushed me over the edge with her lovely words. I stood, moist-eyed amidst the suitcases and photo-taking as we all left taxi-full by taxi-full. The elbow-to-elbow meeting of Monday feeling like a distant memory as we promised to stay in touch.

Arvon Lumb Bank was an astounding week. I feel like a writer now, because of it. The confidence I have gained and the things I have learned will stay with me forever. As, I hope, will the friends I have made.

Thank you to Arvon & Hive South Yorkshire for bursary support to make my Arvon dream possible!

My Week at The Hurst Arvon

My Week at The Hurst – Arvon Poetry Writing Course

My Arvon experience started with a breath-taking drive through Shropshire countryside among towering rhododendrons – a fitting start to a trip that just kept getting better.

Writing bliss

On arrival, I was shown to a comfortable room with a great writing desk. Only the promise of cake down in the kitchen could pull me from that view! These things (cake and the gardens) were the only real distraction as I was set to embrace Arvon’s off-grid approach for the week. This had an enormous impact on my focus. It is important to take yourself away from that constant stimulation and sense of obligation. This week allowed me to place writing as my priority. Meeting my fellow writing companions, and hearing the number of returnees, I learned that Arvon courses are clearly additive (and should come with a warning…)

After dinner on Monday, we gathered in the lounge to discuss significant moments in our relationships with poetry and writing. It was moving to hear different stories and pathways which had brought people here, and this made me even more excited for the workshops. I found it hard to pinpoint my ‘significant moment’ but I suggested something between learning to recite poems at university, and last December when I started driving a car without a radio, which prompted me to memorise poetry again and to practice whilst driving (safely!)

I made a note of this memory because later, one of my peers approached me with a poem. He had been motivated to write a piece himself, combining an American road-trip with my broken radio. This excited me, partly because I felt I had been transported, and partly as it resounded with something of the magic that happens when you gather creative people in one place (again, should there be a kind of service warning? Note: highly flammable creativity in large numbers can spark writing frenzy)

Through the week I woke early to try and make the most of every kind of Arvon morning:  yoga with a view in the dewy grass, a delicious cooked breakfast, a run around the huge garden, or the enormous cafetiere of coffee back in bed with books – bliss! Of course, I raided the poetry library and had a pile I was determined to eat up (Louise G Cole, Michael Schmidt, Kei Miller, Rebecca Goss…)

one of Arvon’s fine spreads!

The workshops were wonderful. We alternated between George Szirtes and Clare Shaw and each was so generous with their tips and time. George covered a range of formal techniques, from haiku and cinquain to prose-poem and sonnet. George may even have cured a group member of a phobia of sonnets! Clare challenged us to turn the pen on ourselves and question identity and how we hide ourselves in our own work. I wrote three poems I particularly liked in Clare’s first workshop by keying into the “concentrated excitement”[1] that comes when we think as a poet (I never knew I wanted to write about my best friend’s fish, but apparently it was really just waiting under the surface…)

Lunch followed workshops and then time to write and reflect, as well as tutor 1-2-1s. Their careful and considered feedback is something that will stay with me, and has changed my practice for the better. Both were extremely encouraging and gave me the push to keep going, trust my voice, and hone my formal choices. Before the week, I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing from my poems but now feel I have more of a handle on how to make them shine.

The evenings were all different but always full of conversation. Tuesday night was Sophie Collins’s guest reading. I had read Who Is Mary Sue when it was a PBS choice and was extremely giddy to hear her read. The conversation opened up after and I got a wonderful feeling of being part of the world of writing and poetry. We stayed up late taking in every moment we could.

George and Clare read the following evening. I went to the room armed with Bad Machine and Flood ready to gush (excuse the pun) over favourite poems. They were amazing, both reading from a couple of different collections. Everyone in the group was eager to comment on their delivery and our engagement as an audience. They really were inspirational, and again, so generous with their time, holding us all in conversation after, discussing their relationships with writing, form, performance, and other poetry.

On Thursday and Friday night the focus shifted to us, giving us a sense of completion and realisation as writers. We shared some favourite poems and our own from the week, respectively. It was a beautiful, supportive environment, and a pleasure to share and see what the retreat had done for each of us. Some of us read work developed from the workshops, others shared poems brought and edited in the week. I also had the pleasure of reading a voice in a radio play written by another poet in the group – it felt very special to share the piece on that highly involved level as well, and again made me feel part of a community of poets.

Me among the rhoddies

Saturday morning was emotional. We exchanged emails and suggested favourite poets on a hastily photocopied reading list. Although I am looking back sad it’s over, I have definitely gained a renewed sense of focus, motivation, and confidence in my writing which I know will stay with me. And not least, a lot more techniques and skills to add to my own creative toolbox and as an emerging teacher of poetry building my skills. For this, the peace and space, and the renewed sense of enjoyment and excitement as a young writer, I will always be grateful.

Thanks to bursary support from Arvon & Hive South Yorkshire

[1] Ted Hughes, from Poetry in the Making (1967) Faber and Faber